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Pawlenty keeps pushing, but effectiveness of Q Comp yet to be measured

ST. PAUL -- Give Minnesota's Q Comp teacher pay and performance program an "incomplete."

That was the message auditors delivered Tuesday to legislators who are considering Gov. Tim Pawlenty's request to expand Q Comp to all school districts.

There is no proof the $49 million spent on the program this year is helping increase student achievement, Judy Randall of the legislative auditor's office told two legislative committees.

"We're not quite there yet," she said, adding it has not been in effect long enough to know the results.

Then there is the fact that small, rural school districts mostly have been passed over by the Q Comp program.

"Our schools in greater Minnesota as just as important as those districts where that program already is in place," said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, chairman of the Senate education committee.

Until that happens, Stumpf added, Pawlenty's dream of making Q Comp mandatory statewide will remain stalled. "Either we are going to provide some money for those small school districts up front so they can participate ... or we probably are not going to expand it."

Stumpf also said that, in any case, there probably is not enough money available to fund a Q Comp expansion.

"I got bigger fish to fry than that, like a $5 billion budget deficit that is looming over our heads," the chairman said. "We have to somehow take care of that deficit before we expend more money."

Pawlenty wants to require all schools to become Q Comp users, at a cost of more than $40 million in the next two-year budget.

Q Comp, established at Pawlenty's request in 2005, now is voluntary. It changes teacher pay from the traditional seniority system to one based on students' performance and evaluation of teachers.

The program also requires increased professional development opportunities for teachers.

A bonus of up to $260 per pupil is paid to districts that sign up for Q Comp.

Forty-four school districts, about 13 percent, are involved in the program, almost all in the Twin Cities area. The auditor's report showed that school administrators more strongly support the program than teachers, but 43 percent of teachers interviewed indicated Q Comp has improved their teaching and 56 percent indicated that once Q comp began their professional development opportunities increased.

The auditors recommended that the application procedure be streamlined, something Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said would happen.

While the audit generally was favorable for Q Comp, it pointed out that small districts, in particular, felt overwhelmed at the prospect of signing up.

Randall said that administrators in small districts are concerned that they do not have enough money and other resources to launch a Q Comp program.

"Applying to Q Comp requires significant resources," the audit reported.

Seagren said her department will help small districts prepare for Q Comp, but Stumpf said he cannot support expanding the program without money for those districts.

Committee members were divided over Q Comp's effectiveness.